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January 31, 1986 - Image 18

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Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1986-01-31

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18 Friday, January 31, 1986

THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

PURELY COMMENTARY

Jerusalem Chronicled

Continued from Page 2

Praying at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

fect in history. When there were curses, they are recorded. The songs and legends have
due recognition.
One of the bitter disputes which is backgrounded by Prof. Peters is the matter of
the Western Wall.
Recorded is an order that was issued when Vespasian conquere Jerusalem that
the Four Walls should not be destroyed. It is at this point that Prof. etlis inserts the
following about the Western Wall as an appended footnote:
Sources about the Jews in Jerusalem up to the sixteenth century note
their attachment to the site of the Holy Place but the Western Wall is not
referred to specifically. In the geonic (the Fatimid) period the place of as-
sembly and prayer of Jews was on the Mount of Olives ... Benjamin of
Tudela (twelfth century) mentions the Western Wall together with the
"Mercy Gate," which is the eastern wall of the Temple Mount. The Western
Wall is not mentioned by Nachmanides (thirteenth century) in his detailed
report of the Temple site in 1267, nor in the fourteenth-century account of
Estori ha-Parhi. Finally, it does not figure even in descriptions of
Jerusalem in Jewish sources of the fifteenth century (e.g., Meshullam of
Volterra, Obadiah of Bertinoro, etc.) (Chapter Eleven). The name "Western
Wall" used by Obadiah refers, as can be inferred from the context, to the
southwestern corner of the (platform) wall, and there is no hint that there
was a place of Jewish worship there.
Prior to the dispute over the Western Wall that created a multi-national crisis in
1929, the wrangling over the Western Wall had its counterparts in the mid-18th Cen-
tury. This brief reference to the long conflict, in Peters' Jerusalem, has historic impor-
tance:
The Jews' request in 1831 to be allowed to repave part of the area be-
fore the Wall represents the first assertion of a public and so a political
Jewish claim upon the Wall. It had no immediate sequel, but-in 1875 Moses
Montefiore offered to buy the area before the wall outright, an offer that
was refused, and thereafter the claims become increasingly more insistent,
and the Muslim resistance more determined.
There were always Jews in the Holy Land, regardless of many restrictions. Insofar
as Jerusalem is concerned, Christian restrictions were removed when Moslem rulers
came to power in the 12th Century. Peters has an interesting account of the experi-
ences in Jerusalem of the poet Yehuda al-Harizi in that era, in the period of Saladin's
rule. There is fascination in a dialogue recorded by al-Harizi, and quoted by Peters as
follows:
Under the Latins, Jews were not encouraged to live in Jerusalem, so
there may have been only one or two families there, as Benjamin of Tudela
described. But with the Muslim repossession of the Holy City the Jews
were permitted to return. Those who did were probably drawn at first
from nearby Ascalon, then eventually from North Africa, and in 1209-1211
three hundred Jews arrived from France and England. There were simple
pilgrims ae well. One of them was the Spanish poet Yehuda al-Harizi, who
was there the same year as Thietmar. His experience is not described in a
simple travelogue but rather under the form of a picaresquely rambling
dialogue between two characters, one of them standing for the author, on
a great variety of subjects, one of them post-Crusader Jerusalem: "
"I suppose you have arrived at the end of an exile and from a foreign
country?" this man said to me. "In effect yes," I replied. "and how long
have the Jews lived anew in this capital?" "Since the Muslims have con-
quered it." "And why was it they did not live here during the Christian
domination?" "Since those latter accuse us of being deicides, of having
crucified their God, they have not left off persecuting and stoning us when
they found us here." "Tell me the circumstances under which our people
were able to return here." "God, jealous of the glory of His Name and hav-
ing compassion on His people, decided that the santuary would no longer
rest in the hands of the sons of Esau, and that the sons of Jacob would not
always be excluded from it. Thus in the year 4950 of Creation (a.d. 1190)
God aroused the spirit of, the prince of the Ishmaelites (Saladin), a prudent
and courageous man, who came with his entire army, besieged Jerusalem,
took it and had it proclaimed •throughout the country that he would re-

ceive and accept the entire race of Ephraim, wherever they came from.
And so we came from all corners of the world to take up residence here.
We now live in the shadow of peace, and we would be very happy were it
not for the tedious internal problems of the various communities and the
/ spirit of discord which reigns among them, to the point that one could well
( name this place "the rock of dissensions.' " (Harizi 1881:236)
Scores of incidents and experiences are recorded by Peter and famous names, such
as Maimonides, relate to the Jewish interpretations of events and reactions to them.
Pietism had a major influence in the continuing Jewish pilgrimages to Palestine
and the settlement of many in Jerusalem. The hope for the coming of the Messiah and
the "spiritual Zionism" that predominated in earlier centuries has an important refer-
ence in Peters' classic 9tfithological studies. Interestingly, Peters captioned "A Call to
Aliya" the following ascribed to the devotions current in the Ninth Century:
Unlike their Christian and Muslim counterparts, the Mourners for
Zion, had something in mind other than their own salvation or perfection
in conducting their devotions in Jerusalem. They were praying for the re-
storation of Israel, not in any political sense, of course, which would have
been unthinkable at that time and place, but rather in the spirit of what
might be called a "spiritual Zionism." How seriously that ideal was taken
by some is revealed in the following tract on that subject by Daniel al-
Kumisi, written at the end of the ninth century:
"You should know that it is the villains of Israel who say to one an-
other 'We are not obliged to go to Jerusalem until-He gathers us just as He
has scattered us.( These are the words of those who anger (God) and of
fools. Even if God had not commanded us to go to Jerusalem from the
countries (of the Diaspora) in lamentation and bitterness, we would never-
theless know, by virtue of our own intelligence, that there is an obligation
upon' all those who suffered from (God's) anger to come to the Gate of the
Angry to supplicate Him, as I have written above
"You, God-fearers, must therefore come to Jerusalem, dwell there and
become its guardians until the rebuilding of Jerusalem ... One should not
say: 'How can I go up to Jerusalem for fear of bandits and robbers or for
fear of not being able to earn a livelihood in Jerusalem? ... 'Are there not
nations besides Israel who come from the four corners (of the earth) to
Jerusalem every year to be in the awe of the Lord? Why it is that you, our
brethren of Israel, do not do as the other nations of the world do and come
and pray ...? If you do not come because you covet and are obsessed with
your merchandise, then (at least) send five men from each city with
enough (money) to support them, so that we can become a united group to
supplicate our Lord continuously in the mountains of Jerusalem ... You
will have no excuse before God if you do not return to God's Torah and
His commandments, as it is written in His Torah ... From the beginning of
the Exile the rabbis were officials and judges during the Greek monarchy,
the reign of the Greek kings, the Roman monarchy, and the Persian Magus
(and so) those who taught the (true) Torah could not only open their
mouths with God's commandments out of fear of the rabbis ... until the
coming of the Ishmaelites (the Muslims) since they are constantly helpful
in aiding the Karaites to observe the Torah of Moses ..." (Mann 1922: 134-
136, trans. R. Harari)
Messianic commitments and what could be asserted as Middle Age Zionism had as-
pirants whose piety led them to Zion. The view of the eventual "deliverance of the
exiled," the devotion to the hopes for such fulfillment, receives impressive treatment in
Peter's historic data. He utilizes the interpretive in most scholarly works, as in the fol-
lowing dependent also on Prof. Gershom Scholem:
The city had its Jewish pilgrims and visitors, often under extremely
frying circumstances, but immigration, permanent settlement in the Land
of Israel, was of far greater concern to those who already lived there. In
the mid-seventeenth century that concern was religious and theological
rather than political, since, as one author wrote in 1648:
'But for the prayer of the men of Jerusalem, who pray at the Wailing
Wall with weeping and supplication, and are all great ascetics and saints,
the World would — (Heaven forfend) — no longer exist; and concerning
them it is written, 'and on Mount Sion there shall be a deliverance,' mean-
ing that the Jews that live there and devote themselves to the life of the
world to come." (Scholem 1973: 73)
How strongly this was felt may be sensed through the words of Nathan
Shapira, who had left his native Cracow to come to Palestine. He spent
most of his life there in Jerusalem until he was sent to Italy on one of
those fund-raising missions that had characterized the Jewish community
in Jerusalem from the beginning. His exposure to the wealthy Jews in the
European Diaspora provoked Shapira, and his displeasure at their failure
to live in the Land of Promise is apparent in this eschatological passage of
"The Goodness of the Land," a work published in 1654:
Know that we possess a tradition that on the day when the Messiah
comes to Palestine for the ingathering of the exiles there will be seven
thousand Jews. (in Palestine). On this day the dead in Palestine will arise
and the walls of fire will depart from Jerusalem ... On this day the dead
in Palestine will resume their former lives and will become new spiritual
creations. And the seven thousand that were alive there (when the Messiah
arrived) will become, a new creation, that is, spiritual body like Adam's
body before the fall ... and they will fly in the air like eagles — all this in
the sight of the returning exiles.
When the returning exiles see their Palestinian brethren have become
a new creation aid are flying in the air toward a lower Paradise where
they will study the Law from the mouth of God, then their heart will fill
with sorrow and dismay and they will complain to the messianic king, say-
ing, "Are we not Jews like the others? And how have they become
spiritual kings and we not?" Then the messiah will answer them, "It is
known that God dispenses justice measure for measure. Those of the Dis-

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